Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

EU Directives

Willie O'Dea

Ceist:

44. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans for the EU IORP II directive; if a derogation for smaller and single member pension schemes will be applied for; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8051/19]

The directive is designed to protect the beneficiaries of pension schemes by requiring better qualifications among trustees and controlling how the money is to be invested. A derogation is possible, but has the Government set its face against the notion of one for smaller and single member pension schemes and, if so, why?

The transposition of the IORP II directive will result in significant improvements in the regulation and governance of funded occupational pension schemes in Ireland. While the directive provides for the possibility of a derogation from specific articles for smaller schemes, members of smaller schemes should have the same protections and oversight as members of larger ones. Money saved for pension purposes should be properly protected to ensure people have adequate income for their retirement years. The value of investments held in many schemes fell substantially during the financial crisis. This highlighted the need for stricter regulations and greater protections, especially for small schemes investing in riskier unregulated markets.

It has been suggested single person pension schemes should be exempt from the application of IORP II rules on the basis that the scheme members are competent in the management of their own affairs and that the governance requirements are unduly onerous. However, Ireland has a far larger number of small schemes than any other EU state and the Government shares the European Union's concerns about such small schemes, particularly in the protection of consumers and the money they have invested, the riskiness of these investments, the charges that apply and the standard of governance. Accordingly, the Government has decided that the provisions of the directive should apply to all funded occupational pension schemes.

The application of the directive is prospective, not retrospective. This means that existing investments and borrowings can remain in place. After the transposition, no single member scheme, including small self-administered ones, which are the only schemes currently allowed to borrow, will be allowed to enter into new borrowing arrangements, except for short-term and liquidity purposes. All of their future investments will have to be made in accordance with the investment rules included in the directive.

Officials in my Department, supported by the Pensions Authority, are managing the transposition process of the IORP II directive. TIt is a substantial directive and the preparation of regulations to transpose it is at an advanced stage. It is expected that transposition into Irish law will be achieved before the end of March.

Is the Minister aware that, under the IORP I directive which was designed to do the same thing, the then Government agreed to a derogation for this type of scheme, in particular, on the basis that a one-size-fits-all model did not work? Is she aware that her colleague in the European Parliament, Mr. Brian Hayes, MEP, confirmed at a meeting on 29 January with the association representing these schemes that the Government had a clear and strong view on the terms of the directive to the effect that there must be maximum flexibility in how schemes were managed so as to be able to make special provision for one member arrangements? He went on to say and allowed the association to reference him that the reason for the derogation was Ireland had championed and supported it. The Minister's colleague in the European Parliament has pointed to why there should be a derogation from the directive, yet the Government is choosing not to implement one. The Minister has stated people must be protected from mismanagement of their funds, but is she aware that the pensioners in one member pension schemes make the decisions? They have not sought protection against their own decisions. Is the Minister aware that the Government's approach eliminates freedom of choice and will have an impact on, for example, investment in housing, an area in which some of the schemes are the main investors and where the Government has committed to providing more housing?

To answer a number of the Deputy's questions directly, I am aware that the then Minister Séamus Brennan granted a derogation. I do not agree with the Deputy's description of what that derogation achieved. During the financial crisis many large and small investment pension schemes suffered significantly not only because of the years-long disaster but also because of the lack of regulation and governance.

We intend to ensure that the new governance measures will relate to everybody equally. With respect to Brian Hayes, MEP he is entitled to his opinion but as long as I am sitting at this desk I will make the decisions on the basis of the best evidence and advice that is given to me. That is what I have done in this case.

With respect, the Minister has not got the best advice. She is talking about protecting people from themselves. People here make the decisions and I suggest to the Minister that the only consequence of not allowing a derogation here, as was arranged by Brian Hayes in Europe, is that these people will be driven into the hands of the larger companies where there will be less transparency and much higher charges. I ask her to reconsider that decision because it will prove counterproductive in the medium to long term.

All I can say respectfully to the Deputy is that I note his comments but the decision has already been made. We are well advanced in our work to transpose this directive and we will have it done by the end of March.

JobPath Programme

John Brady

Ceist:

45. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the action she plans to take in view of the recent passing of the Dáil Éireann motion regarding JobPath; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8287/19]

Two weeks ago Sinn Féin brought forward a motion on the much discredited JobPath programme and also made references to successful schemes such as the local employment services, community employment schemes and job clubs that work and have worked over many years across the State. What is the Minister doing to honour the democratic wishes of this Dáil, which overwhelmingly supported the Sinn Féin motion, regarding JobPath?

The Government's position on the recent motion debated in the House on the JobPath service was clearly set out in my contribution and that of others at the time. I note the views of the House on the matter. However, the position of the Government remains unchanged. My Department has entered into legally binding agreements with the JobPath providers and the Government will honour these contractual commitments.

I will reiterate again that the JobPath service performance recorded and published by the Department exceeds contracted target levels and that creditable large-scale customer research, also published by the Department, shows very high levels of customer satisfaction and very low levels of complaints.

The Department also operates a robust inspection and compliance system and a detailed report from the Comptroller and Auditor General made no recommendations regarding how the service is governed. The Department will shortly publish the results of an econometric evaluation of the service which will further indicate that the outcomes for participating jobseekers, both in terms of employment and earnings, are better than those of non-participants. Compared to this body of evidence I note the criticisms of the service are based on anecdotal or very small scale research which would not be considered as reliable evidence in any serious evaluation of the service.

During that particular debate and prior to it I asked Deputies to forward me examples of cases that they believed substantiated the criticisms of the service. Since the debate on the Private Members' motion, I was provided with just two examples of people who expressed dissatisfaction with the service. The case is being reviewed but the nature of the complaint does not differ greatly from representations which are occasionally received in respect of other activation services, including the Department's Intreo service, our CV clubs, local employment services, job clubs etc.   It is certainly not suggestive of any widespread or systemic issues with the service over and above what would be expected in a service that has now served in excess of 200,000 Irish citizens.

Therefore, I am satisfied that the proper course of action is to continue with the service in order to support our long-term unemployed jobseekers. Thankfully, the number of long-term jobseekers are dropping, as reported by the Central Statistics Office today.

TDs from across this Chamber voiced serious concerns and gave example after example of what exactly is happening within Turas Nua and Seetec. Certainly the evidence that was given in this Chamber was not anecdotal. I stated during that debate that TDs do not lie at home dreaming up these cases. These are real cases. TDs act as the eyes and ears of the public and those stories, which we raised, were brought to our attention. Therefore, they were certainly not anecdotal evidence.

During the debate the Minister put out the figure of 41,000 full-time jobs having been commenced through JobPath. Myself and other TDs questioned that figure and asked for a breakdown of those 41,000 so-called job starts. Correspondence the Minister has given me, which is quite startling, shows that only 11,334 jobs out of 206,000 were sustained in employment exceeding 12 months, yet she still stands over this having been the so-called most successive labour activation scheme in this State. How can she conclude that the programme has been successful given that not even close to half of those 41,000 full-time jobs have been sustained in employment for over a year? In terms of the democratic will of the Dáil, we have spoken and the Minister must listen to that and act on it.

I am sure the Deputy will be fully aware that Private Members' motions are not legally binding instructions on Government but what are legally binding are the contractual arrangements that the previous Government entered into with our two contractors among others with regard to activation in this country. I do not believe the Deputy and I are ever going to agree on this and so we will have to agree to disagree. For some reason, he has a problem with the JobPath programme.

The House has.

I will say it again, it is the most successful activation programme that this State has ever had. He does not have to take my figures for it, he can take the CSO figures that were released today. We had the largest drop in long-term unemployment last year that we have had in years. That did not happen by magic. That happened because of all of our activation partners - Seetec, Turas Nua, all our Irish local development network, ILDN, partners, all my community employment host companies and all my Tús companies. They all work collectively and collaboratively with the State to ensure the people who are at risk of being long-term unemployed get the best services they can to get jobs. Despite the Deputy's best efforts, it is working and we are going to continue to do it. As I believe I have said to the Deputy previously, we are conducting a review of all of our activation services to make sure that the next generation of Ireland's unemployed get a tailor-made service. We will do that with our ILDN partners. A review of my community employment schemes is taking place, and we will do that for the rural social scheme, RSS, JobPath, Turas Nua and Seetec when the econometric review comes out.

I am not the only one who has a problem with the JobPath programme. The Dáil has a problem with it. Clearly, the Minister is not going to honour the expressed will of the Dáil, which is the expressed will of the people. She misled the House during the debate. She said nobody had made complaints to the Ombudsman. I checked and there have been numerous complaints-----

-----made to the Ombudsman regarding Turas Nua and Seetec. That motion referred to investing and upscaling the successful schemes such as the local employment services and the community employment schemes. We know that referrals to community employment schemes and the local employment service have plummeted. Thousands fewer have been referred to the local employment service. As we speak, there is 1,971 vacancies within community employment schemes the length and breadth of the State. That is not by accident but by design. There is genuine concern regarding the local employment service.

The Indecon report was published a few weeks ago. There is a strong view it is paving the way for the privatisation of some of the successful schemes such as the local employment service in terms of public procurement. Will the Minister invest in the local employment service, as there is genuine concern regarding her intentions? There is a view that the ground is being prepared for the privatisation of that sector going out to public procurement and that the payment by results model will be rolled out. Will the Minister outline what her plans are for the local employment service, the community employments schemes and the other the successful ones?

The Minister cannot ignore the expressed will of the Dáil. We have spoken here. JobPath needs to go and she needs to ensure that it does go.

What I cannot ignore are the contractual obligations the State has with two companies to provide very successful outcomes for in excess of 200,000 people who have gone through their doors.

There have been only 11,344 jobs.

I also stated in the House previously that the termination of the contracts or a step away from any of the terms of contract would leave the State potentially exposed to millions of euro, but the Deputy's party has a magic cheque book, so that does not bother him. It also does not bother him that this is actually working.

There have been only 11,344 jobs.

That people are getting work. Some 48,000 people have got work in the past number of years.

It does matter how many have gone through those there have only been 11,344 jobs.

Allow the Minister to continue without interruption or I will move on.

Could I respectfully tell the Deputy, seen as I am the one who is responding to his question-----

Answer the question.

The Minister must be given an opportunity to respond without interruption.

-----that asking a question requires an answer?

Answer the question.

Asking a question requires the Deputy being quiet when I am speaking, and I being quiet and listening to the Deputy when he is speaking.

There have only been 11,344 jobs. The Minister cannot defend them-----

It is something we have a real problem with.

-----because it is indefensible.

I am going to move on.

Community Employment Schemes Review

Willie O'Dea

Ceist:

46. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans for community employment schemes and the local employment services; the efforts she will make to safeguard same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8052/19]

There are two aspects to this question. The first part is that the Minister recently announced a review of the community employment scheme. I would like an update on the review. Second, has the Minister read the Indecon report? Is she aware of its recommendations on the local employment service, LES, and has she taken any decision on the matter yet?

With some 900 schemes, community employment is the largest employment programme administered by my Department. It aims to enhance employability and mobility by providing work experience and training opportunities for unemployed persons within their communities. They do this superbly. Community employment also helps long-term unemployed persons to re-enter the active workforce by breaking their long-term experiences of unemployment through a return to work routine.

Deputies on all sides of the House are fully aware of the positive benefits derived from community employment schemes by the individuals, the host companies and communities. Communities benefit from the skills and talents of participants, while participants are provided with the opportunity to improve existing skills, or develop new ones, while performing valuable work in local communities. Many community employment schemes provide vital community services across the country, all of which are well embedded in the communities. I know that we certainly could not do without some of these services in County Meath, but that is true and reflective of all the counties we represent.

I am fully committed to the future of the programme and will continue to support and improve it for the benefit of the people who participate in it and having regard to the valuable contribution it makes to local communities.  In that regard, the Government has agreed to my request to establish an interdepartmental group to explore the most appropriate organisational arrangements, including which Departments should host sections of the community employment programme, especially social inclusion schemes. Deputies may be aware that following the review of the community employment scheme in 2015, a decision was taken to adopt a two-strand approach to all community employment placements which were categorised as either a training and activation strand or a social inclusion strand. It is my strong view that local services supported by these social inclusion placements should be safeguarded. The scheme will continue to be subject to continuous improvement and reviewed on a regular basis.

The Department values very highly the local services provided by bodies such as the LES and will continue to depend on local service providers to supplement and complement direct service provision into the future. It is, however, a legal requirement that the services be procured in an open process and that appropriate governance arrangements be entered into. Accordingly, my Department commissioned Indecon to complete an independent, evidence–based evaluation of the effectiveness, efficiency and governance of the local employment service and jobs clubs.  The report was published in January and I have read it. It will inform the Department's and my decisions on the future activations and partnerships we require.

I am incredibly committed to the people involved because they are incredibly committed to unemployed persons. They provide valuable services and we will continue to support them.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

It will help to inform both the Department and the LES of how to ensure compliance with legal procurement requirements.  My Department and I have been engaging with key stakeholders throughout the process and will, of course, continue to do so. Looking to the future of employment services generally, one of the factors to be taken into account is the reduction in the live register. This creates an opportunity to consider how best to encourage and support other groups into employment such as inactive persons who are not currently seeking work and people with disabilities. I consider that services such as the LES are well positioned to offer such a service. My Department will continue to consult the relevant stakeholders to ensure any future contracted public employment service will give the best possible service to those who wish to return to the labour market.

I am glad that the Minister is committed because my information is that the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection is directing people away from community employment schemes to keep Turas Nua and Seetec fed. It is to keep that monster fed. When does the Minister expect to be in a position to make a decision on the future of community employment schemes? Does she intend to retain responsibility for the schemes within her Department? There is a suggestion it may move to another Department.

The Indecon report contains a recommendation that active consideration be give to having an open, public, competitive procurement model for future provision of services, that is, the services being provided by the LES. Is the Minister aware that, as a State body, the LES would not be able to compete in such a procurement process? It would not be in a position to compete if the service was opened up to private tender in this way. That would directly open the door to the privatisation of the service. Unfortunately, I do not have time to reiterate my views in that regard which I delivered to the Minister last week during Private Members' business. Will she give an assurance to the people who are being well served by the LES and the dedicated staff within it that this is one of the recommendations she will not be accepting?

I shall break my reply into two based on what the Deputy asked. The interdepartmental group is going to have its first meeting next week. Ms Simonetta Ryan has agreed to chair the group and we will have a number of meetings in the next few weeks. I will have recommendations arising from the meetings and the consultation with host CE companies. I will bring a memo to the Cabinet before the end of May.

I will explain the route I am taking. After the review in 2015 in which we categorised CE placements as training and activation and social inclusion, we continued to govern them with exactly the same rules we used for activation. How, in God's name, can we genuinely support a person in sheltered or supported employment if he or she is being governed by the same rules as those used in training somebody to gain work experience or undergoing a course for one year, which are to get people off the live register and into employment? That just does not work. We need two sets of rules in that regard.

We also need to look at where the rural social scheme sits. We need to look at Tús in that context. This will be done in the interdepartmental review. I cannot tell the Deputy the outcome of the deliberations on the Indecon report, but I can tell him what I told the Irish Local Development Network at its AGM in December. They are an integral part of the delivery of services in the State and have been for years and will be for years into the future.

If that is the case and it is the Minister's intention that the LES should continue for years into the future and knowing as I do that the LES would not be able to compete properly or not at all if it was opened up to private tender, will she confirm this and give us that reassurance in order that there will not be any question about the work being tendered for privately? Will she also answer my other question? Is it her intention or objective to retain responsibility for community employment schemes within her Department, rather than have it transferred to another Department now that the social aspect is to be the focus from here on?

I will answer the Deputy's last question first. I do not know what the outcome of the interdepartmental review will be. It has not yet started. I know what I want-----

Tell us what it is

-----but I am doing it interdepartmentally because it is not just up to me to make the decisions.

Would the Minister prefer to retain responsibility in her Department?

I would prefer to have two sets of rules. I do not mind who owns the schemes or who funds them, but I do mind that it is not fair on people in communities who need sheltered employment and additional supports to be governed by the same rules as those we use for job activation schemes. It is just not fair and not feasible and I do no think I can stand over it. Whether we keep responsibility for the schemes and drugs rehabilitation schemes in the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, which would be fine by us, or whether it moves naturally perhaps to the Department of Health, while responsibility for the RSS would perhaps move to the Department of Rural and Community Development will be discussed with the host CE companies and the interdepartmental group which will come up with a list of recommendations that best suits the future of the schemes to support them in the way they should be supported. It should be inclusive and not try to activate people from community employment schemes who cannot be activated for one or two years. The Deputy is aware that Ministers spend their weeks answering community employment scheme requests for persons to be allowed to stay on it for extra years. There are reasons people want to stay on it for the extra years and I believe we should have different rules governing the different strands.

I thank the Minister.

I will be very quick. I have no choice but to provide for public procurement of Government services. The same will apply to Deputy when he sits here. I have no choice but to do it. I have told our ILDN partners that we will support them in that process and we will.

We have to have some control-----

They have a future with the activation services in the State. I have assured them in that regard.

We have made very little progress.

I am sorry, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

Illness Benefit Payments

John Brady

Ceist:

47. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if she is satisfied that all issues related to illness benefit have now been resolved; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8288/19]

The new system for illness benefit payments has caused massive problems since it was first rolled out in the second half of 2018. Many issues had been flagged before Christmas, in October and November. Have they all been resolved at this stage? Just before Christmas the Minister gave us a categorical assurance that they would all be resolved and that there would be no more problems. Is that now the case?

As the Deputy is aware, payment issues arose under the illness benefit schemes last year when my Department transferred administration of the scheme from an old legacy IT payments system to the new core business IT platform which is managing many of its other scheme payments.  At the time I expressed my apologies to all of those who were affected, of whom there were far too many. I am very happy to do so again today.  It should not have happened and we can do better. My Department has since been working hard to resolve the issues and ensure claims are processed and paid promptly.  We have made good progress in that regard, with payment levels in the past few months being maintained at the expected norms for the time of the year. The telephone helpline and call handling performance system has also been addressed because it endured major stress because of the numbers calling us. It is now back to normal levels, although customers may still experience some delays owing to call volumes at particular times, perhaps during the flu season and so on.

There was an increase in the number of claims for illness benefit in January, but it reflected the typical annual increase at the time of year owing to seasonal illnesses.

Currently, people who are due a payment and whose certificates and claims are in order receive their payment promptly. It is important to note, as I have a number of times before, that there have been and will always be cases in which people's payments are legitimately stopped, paused or delayed for a variety of reasons, including the late submission of medical certificates. In addition and as was always the case, human errors can be made from time to time by departmental staff or applicants and it is up to us to ensure we rectify those in as timely a manner as possible. This is to be expected in a scheme that processes between 9,000 and 10,000 certificates a day. I am satisfied, given that we are processing 50,000 certificates into payment every week in line with the normal level established over many years, that such issues are normal processing issues.  While I would obviously prefer that every application was administered correctly in the first instance, we are only human and 100% perfection is not always attainable. However, my Department is learning from the recent challenges and is constantly looking to improve its services.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

As ever, people who experience an urgent financial need while awaiting an illness benefit payment can apply to my Department's community welfare service to receive an interim payment and should contact the relevant local Intreo centre in that regard.

While I hear what the Minister says, illness benefit is still a mess and causing untold problems for people out there. These are not isolated cases. Not a day goes by without someone contacting my constituency offices on the problems he or she is experiencing. There are many cases. Yesterday, a man came to my clinic who has been in receipt of illness benefit since 4 January 2019. On that date, he received a full payment whereas the week after he received a part payment. The following week he got no payment and the week after that he received three part payments to make up the full payment. Last week, he got a full payment. His certificates had been submitted well ahead of time and this is not an isolated incident. This is going on right across the State and it is an unmitigated mess. General practitioners, GPs, are hesitant to fill in the new forms, which have been rolled out to allow people to go beyond the week. That is despite the encouragement of patients by the Department to do so. Has the Minister engaged with GPs on the serious problem with the new forms?

I call the Minister.

What has the Minister done? Will she write to GPs?

Please, Deputy Brady. There are other Members who want to have an opportunity to ask questions.

I confirm that discussions with GP representatives on a move from paper to e-certification concluded successfully weeks ago. I expect e-certification to be introduced with GP co-operation later this year, which will improve services for clients and GPs significantly. The relationship between the Department and GPs is at an all-time high. If there are particular GPs in Bray or the Deputy's neck of the woods generally who have a difficulty, I ask him to give me their names. I will contact them to sort out any issues. In the main, we have 50,000 certificates coming in every week and are bang on target to the level we were at this time last year and in the years before. While there may be cases of delayed payment or of extra or double payments in a particular week on foot of the way the system currently works, there are no more and no fewer such cases than there were one or five years ago.

I call the final supplementary.

We have approximately 90 applications per week which feature some error or difficulty in the interaction out of 50,000.

The Minister will have another minute. I call the final supplementary.

That is exactly within the norms we have always had.

A final supplementary, Deputy Brady.

The Minister knows that people who get illness benefit are very ill. They include cancer patients and people with terminal illnesses. To not know from week to week what payment will come in, if it comes in at all, is a problem. While I appreciate that staff within the illness benefit section of the Department do tremendous work and certainly do not blame them, the new system that was rolled out to streamline and improve things has actually caused an unmitigated disaster. It has left an absolute mess in its wake. It has not succeeded. In previous discussions, the Minister has said the system was due to be extended to other social welfare payments. Does she still intend to roll the system out to other payments when there are still problems here? If it is rolled out, it will cause an unmitigated disaster.

The Deputy's definition of "unmitigated disaster" and the reality of the incredibly hard-working people providing the illness benefit service in my Department are poles apart. I have told the Deputy that we are taking in more than 50,000 certificates every week. If even 1% of those people have a difficulty, the Deputy will focus his attention there, rather than on the 99% success rate on which most people would focus. I have told the Deputy that the system is being operated by humans, including those applying, GPs submitting certificates on their behalf and the staff receiving the applications, and that there will be mistakes. There will be times that a medical certificate which was supposed to arrive on a Monday does not come in until the Wednesday, which will mean a split payment the following week. The system is a new one. Either the Deputy has misunderstood me or I have misinformed the House, but no one is moving to a new system. The illness system is for the illness benefit payment scheme. While other schemes might be moving towards our new IT platform, that is just a matter of moving from one server to another. It does not affect the system's design or operation.

I note to the Leas-Cheann Comhairle again that we have had a rough couple of months for staff and for those who receive payments since the changes last August.

The people in my Department, including the extra staff who have been deployed and in particular those who have been there all day every day for 15 years-----

-----have worked incredibly hard-----

I call Deputy Penrose to ask Question No. 48.

-----to make inroads into solving this problem. They have done an incredible job.

Minister, please. Other Members have tabled questions.

Community Employment Schemes Supervisors

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

48. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection her plans to provide community employment supervisors with access to the same working entitlements as provided to public servants following the implementation of the Public Service Superannuation (Age of Retirement) Act 2018; if those who wish to continue to work will be permitted to do so; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8176/19]

The Public Service Superannuation (Age of Retirement) Act 2018 allows public servants to continue to work to the age of 70 if they so choose. In other words, they can work until that age of their own volition. Given the pension situation which militates more strongly against community employment supervisors than any other sector, will the Minister change the administrative rules applying to these supervisors so that they are treated in a similar and equitable fashion and may work beyond the age of 65 if they wish to continue in their role?

The Government agreed that the compulsory retirement age of most public servants recruited before 1 April 2004 should be increased to 70 and that such additional service would continue to accrue retirement benefits, subject to the maximum of 40 years' service. This was provided for in the Public Service Superannuation (Age of Retirement) Act 2018, which passed in the House just before Christmas and which is the responsibility of my colleague the Minister for Finance and for Public Expenditure and Reform. Community employment, or CE, participants and supervisors are employees of private companies in the community and voluntary sector. My Department is not the employer of CE participants or supervisors and such employees are not public servants but are employees of the sponsoring organisations involved. They are not, therefore, subject to the changes recently introduced for public servants who can now work until they are aged 70. Funding for the employment of supervisors on community employment is available until the supervisor reaches the State pension age.

The Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2011 provided for the necessary amendments to increase the State pension age in line with the national pensions framework. It provided for an increase in the qualification age for the State pension from 66 to 67 from 2021 and a further increase to 68 years from 2028. It is open to CE supervisors to remain on CE until the working day before the birthday on which they reach State pension age as follows; 66 for those born before 1 January 1955; 67 for those born on or after 1 January 1955; and 68 for those born on or after 1 January 1961. I trust this clarifies the matter.

I know of a scheme where the supervisor is being forced to retire in April. The position has been advertised for over a month but no applicant has come forward. Can that person stay on? That is the very simple question. Community employment schemes provide essential services across the towns, villages and parishes of this country, urban and rural, and they are publicly funded. To create what I term a kind of "constructive corporate veil" between the Government and the group carrying on the service is a nonsense. This has to be broken down. It is the same thing that is going on with the pensions. It is cowboy stuff. If companies outside were doing it, we would call them cowboys. All Governments, including the one of which I was a member, have been cowboys in this regard. They have tried to fool people.

There are 44 supervisors on community employment schemes who are aged between 65 and 66 and I want to know if they can continue to work beyond that age. Can they? One cannot have one rule for one group and another rule for another group. It would require a simple administrative decision for the Minister to change this. It is the right thing to do. The Taoiseach said it was up to the employer, but the corporate veil or Chinese wall involved, whatever one calls it, is a nonsense that must stop. Community employment supervisors are employees doing valuable work but we do not treat them as valuable employees.

I know how passionately the Deputy feels about this as he has been talking about CE for many years. However, I remind him, and he was probably a Member of the House when it was established, that CE was established as a working age activation scheme. The people who are on a scheme must be of working age. I do not know the date of birth of the person the Deputy mentioned, and I am happy to take his or her details from the Deputy and look into the matter later today, but a person must retire when he or she reaches retirement age. Currently that is 66 years of age, in a number of years it will be 67 years and in 2028 it will be 68 years. That is the rule that governs the working age activation programmes for participants, assistant supervisors and supervisors in the CE programme as it currently stands.

I refer to the Labour Court recommendation in July 2008 on the establishment of a pension scheme funded by the Government. Yesterday, the Minister saw a responsible, sensible cohort of people who act in important positions. They are not looking for the world. Some of them said on the picket line that most would like a pension that would acknowledge their role or, at least, a decent ex gratia payment. Those who are now long retired could certainly do with that as many of them are in very impoverished positions. Is there any way this can be resolved and what steps is the Minister taking to resolve it?

To be honest, I do not know the answer to that question. We are actively pursuing every and any way of trying to resolve this issue without causing the contagion we know it would cause at present. To be entirely fair to the two unions that are representing the CE supervisors and assistant supervisors, they have come up with different ideas in the last few months that are just not manageable or workable. We are working together. It was sad that they had to go out on strike yesterday but perhaps that will make us redouble our efforts to find a solution. However, the solution must be found within the confines of not costing the State in excess of €600 million. If it is possible I will find a way to do that, but it is not as easy as it sounds. I will not give up. For as long as I am here I will keep trying.